Ashton awarded SPJ’s highest honor

And it was PCLI’s support that helped make it happen.

By LAURA ZAICHKIN / The Working Press

When outgoing SPJ President Christine Tatum asked those who had received a Wells Memorial Key award, the society’s top honor, to stand at Saturday’s banquet, one prominent member remained seated.

There are just some people that you assume already have it, Tatum said. Perhaps, Tatum said, the seated woman had not received it because people were afraid of a wild acceptance speech — matching the personality of the recipient.

Oh my god, said someone in the audience as Betsy Ashton walked to the stage to accept the jeweled key for her active participation since joining SPJ in 1975.

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She is absolutely, positively dynamic and fabulous, Tatum said. We couldn’t let another year go by.

Ashton, a board member of New York’s Deadline Club chapter, has been an SPJ member an incredibly long time, since women were allowed to join, Tatum said.

I joined SPJ in 1975 for all the right reasons. It was men only, Ashton said. And I wanted to be where the boys are.

She said she was known as the blonde on TV and joined SPJ to prove that women should be taken seriously.

Ashton was president of both the Washington and New York SPJ chapters. She served as vice president of Sigma Delta Chi Foundation from 1995 until this year. Ashton volunteers for several organizations, including a New York public television station. She spent 20 years in radio and television in New York and Washington, and is author of Guide to Living on Your Own, a financial planner for newly independent women.

Ashton is starting her career over at age 63 to pursue her passion for art, she said. She paints portraits and figures.

I paint every day and am absolutely loving it, Ashton said.

Though she worked hard, she said she also had fun.

I like to stir things up, Ashton said.

In addition to her contributions to SPJ, Ashton is famous for her ongoing friendly feud with SDX Foundation president Steve Geimann. The two physically‚Äîbut in good humor‚Äîbattled over bottles of wine at last year’s Legal Defense Fund Auction, and at the 2005 convention she threw a glass of scotch in his face.

I have some bruises to prove it, Geimann said.

Ashton is proud of SPJ’s work and her contributions to its success, she said.

The Wells Key means so much to me because of the quality of the people who gave it to me, she said of the award. This is very special.

The award is presented each year for a member’s meritorious service to the society. It honors Chester Wells, SDX’s second national president, who died in 1913 while in office.

SPJ’s president, president-elect, secretary-treasurer and vice president of campus chapter affairs select the winner in a secret meeting, Tatum said.

I was surprised, Ashton said, though she got some hints it might happen.

Another surprise award presented Saturday night was the regional director of the year award, presented to Ron Sylvester, of Region 7.

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